Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Iraq war fuels Islamic radicals: retired U.S. general

Iraq war fuels Islamic radicals: retired U.S. general
By Susan Cornwell

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The conduct of the Iraq war fueled Islamic fundamentalism across the globe and created more enemies for the United States, a retired U.S. Army general who served in the conflict said on Monday.

The views of retired Army Maj. Gen. John Batiste buttressed an assessment by U.S. intelligence agencies, which intelligence officials said concluded the war had inspired Islamist extremists and made the militant movement more dangerous.

The Iraq conflict, which began in March 2003, made "America arguably less safe now than it was on September 11, 2001," Batiste, who commanded the 1st Infantry Division in Iraq in 2004-2005, told a hearing on the war called by U.S. Senate Democrats.

"If we had seriously laid out and considered the full range of requirements for the war in Iraq, we would likely have taken a different course of action that would have maintained a clear focus on our main effort in Afghanistan, not fueled Islamic fundamentalism across the globe, and not created more enemies than there were insurgents," Batiste said.

U.S. intelligence chief John Negroponte refuted that charge at a Washington dinner late Monday, denying the Iraq war had increased the terrorism threat to the United States.

"I think we could safely say that we are safer and that the threat to the homeland itself has, if anything, been reduced since 9/11," the U.S. director of national intelligence said in response to intelligence leaks on Iraq and terrorism that have engulfed the Bush administration in recent days.

"We are more vigilant. We are better prepared," he said.

Batiste, who was among retired generals who called for the resignation of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld earlier this year, poured scorn on the war plan along with two other retired military men at a hearing called by Senate Democrats.


They said the Pentagon let the insurgency grow by not sending enough U.S. troops and made enemies by abusing Iraqis.

"Probably 99 percent of those people were guilty of absolutely nothing," Batiste said of Iraqis U.S. forces held at Abu Ghraib prison. "But the way we treated them, the way we abused them, turned them against the effort in Iraq forever."

At one point, retired Marine Corps Col. Thomas Hammes derisively referred to the U.S. Iraq strategy as "Whack-a-mole," a fairground game where the player uses a big hammer to swat mechanical moles as they pop up from holes.

Hammes said the United States needed another 10 years to succeed in Iraq, while retired Army Maj. Gen. Paul Eaton said the Army needed another 60,000 troops to finish the job. There are 142,000 U.S. troops in Iraq.

Hammes helped establish bases for Iraqi armed forces in 2004, while Eaton trained Iraqi military and police in 2003-4.

Most Democrats are pushing for a plan to start withdrawing U.S. forces, but without a deadline to finish the withdrawal.

Democrats have seized upon the National Intelligence Estimate to undermine the image fostered by President George W. Bush and Republicans as the party best able to stop terrorism before November elections in which control of Congress is at stake.

The classified intelligence document said Iraq had become the main recruiting tool for the Islamic militant movement as well as a training ground for guerrillas, according to current and former intelligence officials.

Negroponte told his audience at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars that news accounts exaggerated the NIE's emphasis on Iraq by overlooking a range of other factors including slow progress in economic, social and political reform throughout the Muslim world.

(Additional reporting by David Morgan and Matt Spetalnick)